Raised on a farm in America’s heartland, Janice Collins used to think that city kids were “lucky.” Looking back on her childhood, she now praises the unique experiences that farm life gave her. Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center. Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program. Curated by Carol Kearns.
By Janice Collins
My father, Louis John Husler, was born July 6, 1908, in Belpre, Kansas, in the farmhouse that his father built. He was the youngest of four children, and he lived in that same house for years, taking care of his aging father and helping to run the farm.
Dad only had an eighth grade education because in those days it was believed eight years was all that you needed to farm. Some of his education was given in a small, wood country school house which was only about a half mile from his home. My father and his three siblings all walked to school. They took packed lunches. Dad learned farming from his father, and machinery was also given to him by his father.
My mother Gladys was a widow with two children when she married my father in 1938 and moved in with him. My brother Eddie and I were born in Grandpa Husler’s house. We were raised in the countryside, learning about farm life.
After Grandpa Husler passed away, the farm was sold and the money was split four ways. Dad then rented a farm in the area from a relative of my mother’s first husband. The farm had many buildings, all in great shape. We lived in Belpre until I was twelve years old.
Dad then purchased land near Stratton, Colorado in 1952. He bought land on old Highway 24 plus a half-section south of Stratton. Dad also rented other land to farm for extra income. That same old place still stands today.
Some years were difficult for the farmers because crops were hailed out, or drought caused poor crops. For additional income my father worked at various jobs helping the “bigtime” farmers. There were times that he worked at the Co-op or at a trailer factory in Stratton.
My father was a very caring person, always giving of his time and money. I have fond childhood memories of Dad trying to make us laugh when we were little. He would pick us up, give us a toss in the air, and then catch us on the way down. My father’s lap was always available. As a child I would crawl up under his newspaper as he was reading and sit on his lap quietly.
He let us ride the tractor sometimes as he farmed. When the combine bin was full from harvesting wheat, my father let us climb on top of the wheat in the bin. This was a little-kids thing to do.
Dad would take us duck hunting with him. We followed his rules, waiting in the bushes quietly until the kill. Then our dog would help fetch the ducks. The ducks were carried home to be plucked and cleaned, ready for the freezer.
Dad was a raw veggie eater. He picked the vegetables from the garden, washed them with a hose, and had his snack. I sometimes took strawberries from the garden for Dad to snack on as he repaired machinery, or whatever farm job he was doing.
My father also loved to dunk donuts, toast, or anything dunkable in his coffee. He especially loved my mother’s homemade bread buttered with homemade churned butter.
Fishing at Rattlesnake Creek was an enjoyment for Dad. We all went fishing. A picnic lunch was packed. Mom included either fried chicken or sandwiches, along with a salad dish.
My children have similar memories of their grandfather on the Colorado farm. Paula remembers my father picking radishes from Mom’s garden, washing them, and then eating them with salt. Natalie remembers that my father liked to eat pickled pigs feet from a jar on the counter. Jeffrey remembers the collection of rattlesnake rattlers in the desk that my father made. He also remembers the smell of tobacco as my father filled his pipe.
My father eventually moved from the farm to live near my brother Eddie in Boulder, Colorado, and he passed away at Boulder Community Hospital around Christmas time in 1980.
When I was little I used to feel that city kids were so lucky to live in town. But as I look back over time, I can see that farm life with my mother and father offered me more than I thought.